On August 24, 2015, Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan and President of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, issued a statement to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
This was the third statement of this kind issued by prime ministers of Japan, including those from Tomiichi Murayama and Junichiro Koizumi.
The 1995 Murayama statement, officially entitled "On the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the War's End,” was the first statement to include three key terms: “aggression,” “colonial rule” and “deep remorse and heartfelt apology.” In 2005, PM Koizumi issued a 60th anniversary statement, which adhered to the basic line of the Murayama’s statement.
When the Abe administration officially announced its plan at the beginning of this year to issue the 70th anniversary statement, there were opinions in the Japanese media that one more statement by a PM would be unnecessary after the Murayama statement and the Koizumi statement, which explicitly acknowledged and apologized for Japan’s colonial rule and aggression. Then why did PM Abe decide to issue the new statement?
With the rise of China, in the last ten years we have witnessed radical changes in the security environment surrounding Japan. The escalation of territorial disputes between China and its neighbors in the East China Sea and South China Sea directly reflects these changes. There have been growing voices within Japanese society calling for a firm stance on the part of the government toward China on the Senkaku islands dispute. Some people even expected the government to deny the Murayama statement on the grounds that, in their view, it was too masochistic. It is no secret that this history revisionist group constitutes a part of Shinzo Abe’s political support base which enabled him to return to the prime minister’s post again at the end of 2012. Therefore there were concerns at that time that Abe’s new statement would take a different view of historical revisionism.
His political support base, however, also includes a group of realist scholars who don't hesitate to acknowledge Japan’s colonial rule and aggression before the end of World War II. In their view, China is committing the same mistake Japan did in that period by challenging the existing international order. Dr. Shinichi Kitaoka, President of International University, represents this group of realist scholars. He also actively supports the Abe administration’s new security initiatives under Japan’s “Proactive Contribution to Peace” program.
In this context it's worth paying attention to the fact that Abe has established the Advisory Panel on the History of the 20th Century and on Japan’s Role and the World Order in the 21st Century, and appointed Dr. Kitaoka as Acting Chair of this advisory panel. Members of the Panel held seven meetings and published a report on August 6, 2015.
Reading both Abe’s new statement and the Advisory Panel’s report, it is obvious that the historic view of the group of realist scholars had a critical impact on the content of Abe’s new statement.
It turned out to be less hawkish than initially expected. It uses the same three key terms – aggression, colonial rule and deep remorse and heartfelt apology – from the Murayama statement.
Abe’s new statement also shares the logic of the Advisory Panel’s report in that it implies criticism of China’s behavior today in East China Sea and South China Sea by admitting that Japan ended up becoming a challenger to the international order in the past.
I understand that, when reading the following part, some people may raise the question of whether Japan learned from history:
In Japan, the postwar generations now exceed eighty per cent of its population. We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize.
However, the sentences that follow this one should be noted: Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.
And so, it’s fair to say that Abe’s 70th anniversary statement on the end of World War II shows Japan’s historical realism, not revisionism.